Did you know this group has surmounted several odds to mobilise sponsorships and volunteers required for the Chennai International Film Festival?

Until a few years ago, the Chennai International Film Festival was plagued by a bunch of problems — badly maintained venues, lack of manpower, shortage of funds, limited participation from the local film industry and predominantly male patronage that made it uncomfortable for women to venture into the venues because of the noise they made.

“I literally had to get up and ask them to shut up and watch,” recalls Suhasini who was a regular at the festival in 2009. She had attended the festival for a few years and was impressed with the efforts of the Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation and festival director E. Thangaraj in putting together an event of this scale with hardly any support.

The government did support the festival even then, but only to the tune of Rs. 3 lakh as sponsorship. This year, the festival spent Rs. 35 lakh in just acquiring films. Money well spent, for it boasts of films that are on a par with the best in the country — the best from Cannes, with most of them being official Oscar entries from countries around the world.

This year, the Tamil Nadu Government came on board to support the festival with Rs.50 lakh and the festival has managed to get as many as eight screens across five venues all over Chennai.

But how did it finally get to this point within its tenth year?

In rewind mode

Let’s rewind to Suhasini watching films with the unruly crowd at the festival and asking them to behave. “It was the first time the festival had a competition for Tamil films and Revathy was part of the jury. So we met and decided that we had to do what we could to help from the next year. In 2010, we attended a couple of meetings and realised so much money had to be raised and there was very little sponsorship. Unsure of what we could do to help, we left.”

That was roughly around the time the actors from the Eighties had a reunion of sorts. “That’s when I told them about the festival and how it needed help. Mani (Ratnam) gave Rs. 5 lakh, Sarathkumar and Radhika another Rs. 5 lakh, Khushboo got sponsorships for Rs. 6 lakh, Revathy took care of the prize money, Suresh drafted sponsorship letters that pitched the festival as Navaratri for films.... Slowly, the money started coming in. We needed volunteers; we approached MOP Vaishnav College and got 75 girls. Managing that many people meant more logistical issues — we had to arrange for food for them. So we approached Hot Breads Mahadevan and Poornima’s vehicle would pick up the food. We called all our hotelier friends and got rooms for free to accommodate guests visiting the festival. In 2011, we did it again. Sarathkumar took care of the air tickets for the visiting dignitaries,” explains Suhasini.

“A Google Group was formed in 2010 with 30 actors and filmmakers and whatever had to be done was posted as a thread. By the eighth or ninth mail in the thread, a solution was always found,” says Suhasini. “We would start planning in October usually and since all of us are mostly travelling, we would Skype every morning.”

This year, Shylaja Chetlur, from the core committee, decided to use Twitter in addition to the Google group as they realised that delegates had to be kept in the loop. “We wanted to make it completely transparent. I made it a point to tweet all the unforeseen changes in the schedule. We have a website and a daily newsletter that helps people plan their day,” she adds.

Red Carpet screenings (at INOX still funded by Mani Ratnam and Suhasini) were organised every night to involve the film industry and every friend of the core group would come forward to sponsor the post screening after-party.

Problems still remain. The Tamil film competition of the festival, for instance, has called for entries through the Director’s Union. Yet, every year, there are complaints from filmmakers who haven't submitted their films that their film was ignored.

“It is physically not possible to invite every member of the film industry to come forward and support the festival,” says Shylaja.

“Every filmmaker and actor is welcome to be part of the organising team. We tell those who show up at the Red Carpet screening to wear the Colour of the Day to express solidarity and we make sure that they get some work to do the next year,” smiles Suhasini.